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Grounds managers specifying commercial mowers traditionally have paid attention to a small number of core beliefs: Cost dominates. More horsepower is better. Speed is essential. In reality today, these factors either do not come into play or are not near the top of the priority lists. The specification process now includes far more considerations. One thing is certain, though: For managers in institutional and commercial facilities, specifying mowers is one task that is never far from their minds.
"I guess guys like me are always in the market" for mowers, says Jeff McManus, director of landscape services, golf and airport operations with the University of Mississippi. "You have to roll the fleet over. If you don't, you're going to get behind. Every couple of years, we're replenishing two or three mowers."
Most grounds departments are working with tight budgets when it comes to specifying mowers and other big-ticket equipment. Even so, cost is not necessarily the top consideration in making the purchase decision.
"Most of the mowing equipment is cost-competitive," says Kevin O'Donnell, superintendent of grounds with Villanova University. "There's not a wide difference in cost from one mower to another. At least I haven't found that in our marketplace.
"We are looking for efficiency and operator comfort. If our operators don't like the mower and find it uncomfortable, it really cuts down on their efficiency. They're on the mowers several hours each day, so that's critical."
McManus — whose department uses a fleet of 14 mowers to maintain 354 acres — concurs that money does not dominate his department's mower purchases.
"Cost is not a big factor for us initially," he says. "We obviously can't go buy any and everything, but it helps if it's something that's going to make us more efficient and I can show that.
"Our approach has been to buy a piece of equipment that may cost a little more (rather) than to hire another person or two. If we can show that we can reduce labor with better equipment, we tend to get more funding. When we bought those two (22-inch, front-deck mowers), we reduced our mowing from five days to four and a half and in some places four days. Anytime you can free up time, that's a big deal."
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